Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review: History Bites

Toronto Sun, 22 June 2012
By Bruce DeMara

America’s 16th president had an axe to grind. Turns out it was a silver-plated axe he used to take down vampires.

In 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' — a piece of truly wretched historical and mythological revisionist claptrap — crosses, holy water, wooden stakes, even garlic are out. No sirree, it seems the only way to dispatch the thirsty undead is with silver — a silver spoon in one memorable instance.

But horror of horrors, this film mangles the nosferatu legend even further because these 19th-century blood suckers have somehow learned to adapt to sunlight. Some wear funky-looking tinted glasses, other don’t. It doesn’t seem to matter.

Based on the rather silly novel by Seth Grahame-Smith — who also penned the screenplay and also wrote the earlier mashup novel 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' — the film starts with young Lincoln losing his dear mom to a vampire’s kiss. She doesn’t become a vampire, she just gets all milky-eyed before expiring.

(Why young Abe doesn’t raise a hue and cry when he espies a stranger entering his home in dark of night from his bed in the rafters is not at all clear. Undue deference to his elders perhaps? At least youngsters in the 21st century don’t have that hindrance.)

In any case, Lincoln is befriended by Henry Sturges, who trains him to be a kick-ass axe-wielding kung-fu-style vampire killer, a useful precursor no doubt to the blood sport of politics. (Though the fact he gets elected president on the Republican ticket is confusing. In the present day, the Republicans are surely the party of the rich and the undead.)

Benjamin Walker has the height, wooden features and (eventually) the whiskers to play the Great Emancipator but, alas, not the gravitas. Even with biceps flexed, gripping a silver axe, he’s Lincoln Lite.

Rufus Sewell does a much better job of sinking his teeth into the role of Adam, Abe’s 5,000-year-old nemesis, a Southern plantation owner who feasts on black slave labour.

“Send a fresh crop south. We have a lot of hungry mouths to feeds,” he says to a confederate, lips smacking with relish.

Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double) brings world-weary melancholy to the role of Henry. He’s a vampire too and vampires can’t kill other vampires, you see. It’s part of the code.

Director Timur Bekmambetov, who’s done a couple of creditably creepy vampire films in his native Russia, seems a little lost in this 19th-century revisionist morass. He stages a couple of action scenes — a chase during a stampede of horses, a train fight on a burning bridge — that seem more designed to justify the use of 3D than to advance the plot.

This film should be campy fun, but in Bekmambetov’s unsteady hands, it feels laboured and unsatisfying.

Some effort has been made to get period detail such as costumes right, yet the dialogue is laughably modern era.

One of the few moments of levity comes at film’s end. It’s April 15, 1865, and Mary Todd Lincoln, waiting outside the White House in a carriage, admonishes: “Hurry up Lincoln, we’re going to be late for the theatre.”

As we all know, Lincoln’s night-out at the theatre turned out disastrously. Yours doesn’t have to. Take the hint and go see something else.

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